From Shellac to a good old-fashioned French manicure, many of us would never leave the house without a slick of nail polish.
And we increasingly visit nail salons to have our nails painted perfectly.
But one scientist has warned the chemicals in nail care products contain toxic chemicals that can cause serious affect our health.
Writing for The Conversation, Dr Thu Quach, of Stanford University and the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, says exposure to these chemicals can lead to issues ranging from cancer to fertility problems…
A chemical by any other name
Nail care products contain, in varying amounts, many toxic and potentially hazardous ingredients.
Chemical ingredients in them range from cancer-causing compounds such as formaldehyde to others that disrupt hormones.
Researchers have identified toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate – nicknamed the ‘toxic trio’ because of their serious health impacts – as three chemicals of high concern for salon workers.
Toluene is a commonly used solvent that creates a smooth finish across the nail and keeps the pigment – the colour – from separating in the bottle.
But it can affect the central nervous system and cause reproductive harm.
Its major use is as an additive in gasoline.
Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, is used as a nail-hardening agent and disinfectant for nail care tools.
Exposure to dibutyl phthalate, added to polishes to provide flexibility, has been linked to reproductive problems.
In addition to this trio, there are many other harmful chemicals used in nail care products.
Many nail salons lack adequate ventilation and there aren’t very many ways that air inside the salon can escape outside, and vice versa.
This means chemicals evaporated from nail products are often trapped inside salons – and workers are continuously exposed.
So workers’ exposure is amplified: First they experience direct contact with the chemicals in the products, then they continuously breathe in these chemicals within small, poorly ventilated salons.
Health effects aren’t hypothetical
Nail salon workers pay a huge price in the form of their health.
Exposure to nail care products with harmful chemicals can result in a number of health effects, ranging from skin irritations, eye injuries and allergic reactions.
They also have thinking and memory problems, neurological symptoms, nausea, respiratory problems, cancer and uncontrollable muscle contractions to impaired reproductive and development processes.
Research studies, including my research at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, have documented acute health effects in these workers.
These include headaches, breathing problems and skin irritations, commonly associated with overexposure to solvents used in these products.
Studies have also shown that working in salons is linked to reproductive health problems, including spontaneous birth, preterm delivery and undersized babies as well as pregnancy complications.
The exposures and health effects are enough to lead some governmental agencies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to invest in research and outreach to the salons.
As an epidemiologist, I have conducted multiple research studies to examine workplace exposures and health effects for nail salon workers.
In my talks with hundreds of salon workers and owners, many have shared their personal stories of health problems, ranging from chronic headaches to tragic cases of cancer and pregnancy complications.
While research doesn’t always provide definitive answers on the links between their workplace exposures and health problems, it’s hard to ignore the patterns in these stories.